Sundays at the Ranch vs. Garden Parties at the Huntington’s Ranch

By Nancy Armitage

What was the H. E. Huntington’s (“Edwards” & “Belle”) style of entertaining on the San Marino Ranch? In the period of time from 1913-1920’s after Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Arabella) got married; they were married in romantic Paris in the summer of 1913. In the Huntington Library archives, I found a lot of evidence of Tea Parties & what they called “Sundays at the Ranch”, Mrs. Huntington like to call these “Entertainments” at the Huntington Mansion and they were filled with contradictions.

Even the phrases, “Garden Party” & “Sundays at the Ranch” sound like polar opposite – social events. But in reality, the Huntingtons seemed to have used both of these styles of entertaining. H. E. “Edwards” Huntington & his 2nd wife, Arabella, enjoyed many styles of “Entertainments”. There was tea parties, luncheons, bridge parties, & formal dinners on their San Marino Ranch, California.

In the 1920’s, Mr. Huntington’s daughter-in-law, Leslie Green Huntington, (married to Howard Huntington) stated that the Huntingtons had guests to the ranch “every Sunday.” These honored guests were houseguests, family, grandchildren, dignitaries, & royalty. Their houseguests often would stay at the Ranch for a month at a time.   

Another concept that is hard to visualize is “the Ranch”, a 501-acre property & his prized Botanical Gardens were located in the same place. When one thinks of the Ranch, they visualize dirt, dust, stables, horses, chickens, & crops. 

When one thinks of the Botanical Gardens one visualizes beautiful alluring walkways with themed gardens, statues, fancy trimmed topiaries, & beautiful fragrant roses. The amazing thing about the Huntingtons’ San Marino Ranch was that it was both: a large working Ranch & an extensive botanical Garden. Each year, the landscape of the Ranch changed, the superintendent of the Ranch: Mr. Wm. Hertrich helped with this transformation. Each year, Mr. Huntington & Mr. Hertrich added hundreds of new plants, roses, herbs, flowers, citrus & nut trees, & hot house orchids.  So gradually the San Marino Ranch turned into the world class botanical garden that it is today, 100 years ago.  

“Neptune” just outside the north front doors on the San Marino Ranch; which became the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

When Mr. Huntington bought the Ranch in 1903, photographs show the property looked more like a Ranch. With his great vision, month after month, year after year, the landscape of the ranch changed. Huntington’s hard working gardeners, ranch hands, & greenhouse keepers worked hard to make it a paradise for the Huntingtons. 

Even Myron Hunt, the architect of the Huntington “residence” mansion, helped design some of the Huntington gardens to mimic those at Versailles Palace. The North Vista was designed after Versailles gardens, the “Tapis Vert”.  The HEH Collections associate curator, Jennifer Goldman, told me once that the North Vista was also once a “deer park”. 

BBQ rack of rib, beef and pork

“Sundays at the Ranch” stemmed from an old Huntington family tradition in Oneonta, New York, where H. E. “Edwards” Huntington was born. These were happy memories for Mr. Huntington, of being a young boy. He enjoyed lovely Sunday afternoon picnics, oyster suppers, & ice cream socials with his large close family.

This is a great example of California Rancho style of decorating. This picture was actually taken at The Biltmore in Santa Barbara, CA Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

There is evidence in the Huntington kitchen lists of Spanish-Mexican style “Rancho Fiesta” with corn tortilla press. They could have made Huevos Ranchos, Tacos, Enchilada & Tamales. Since the H. E. Huntington guest cottage was decorated in the California Rancho style….it is highly likely that the Huntingtons used this building to entertain at Sundays at the Ranch.

Garden Parties or Parisian Salons with Southern hospitality would have been how Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington style of entertainment. She was from Mobile, Alabama, & a true Southern Belle; it states so on her mausoleum at the Huntington Library. She loved to entertain & had the means to do it in grand style. 

The San Marino Ranch was technically Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington’s “country estate”. They had a palatial palace of a mansion in the middle of this gentlemen’s California working ranch. The magnificent Italian Renaissance Revival residence filled with valuable French & English antique treasures & numerous household servants (10-20 at any given year).

Mr. Henry E. Huntington’s Calling Card; the bottom one “Mourning Calling Card” was made after Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington died in Sept. 1924. HEH would have used the Mourning card until Sept 1925, a year after her death.

A formal engraved invitation or a Victorian-Edwardian social “calling card” or even a phone call (early 1900’s) went out to Huntington guests. The Huntingtons wished them to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Huntington’s estate. Burke Holladay, (Mr. Huntington’s brother-in-law) recorded some of the Sundays at the Ranch in his personal journals. Luncheon usually seemed to be part of the festivities. Sometimes, Edwards & Belle had 12 luncheon guests or dinner guests eat at their dining table. The Sundays at the Ranch that includes so many delightful things on the property. There would be delicious food & drink, lawn bowling, croquet, a visit to the Large Aviary, or riding a horse, etc.

The Holladay family (H. E. Huntington’s sister, Carrie & her husband, Burke, & sometimes their children, Collis & Helen Holladay) were often invited for a formal but intimate multi-course dinner. They were often the same evening as the “Sundays at the Ranch”. Humorous journal entries document how these formal dinners entailed them to rush home from the “Sundays at the Ranch ” to get dressed in formal attire: white tie & tails & formal dresses, then rush back to the Ranch to be on time for dinner. All meals were exactly on time at all the Huntington Mansions & Estates.  Mr. & Mrs. Huntington were very prompt people & expected all their guests to be on time to their elegant dinners. 

Remember the Huntington Family were “train” people, & the train is always on time. Their friend, Sir Joseph Duveen (art-antique dealer) would teased Mr. Huntington about his strict rules of being on time for dinner; Mr. Huntington would explain how they had been around trains his entire life & that the train doesn’t wait for anyone. Mr. Huntington would explain he always liked to be on time for meals. That the cook is trying hard to get food hot on the table & it is what you should do, a respectful thing is to be on time. 

The Huntingtons were also churchgoing people & attended the Pasadena Presbyterian Church. On Sunday mornings, their day would start by attending church. The Huntington chauffeurs, (Mr. Williams or Mr. McGruder) – would drive them back to the Ranch in their two limousines or other automobiles. The Huntingtons had two limousines each held 5-7 people, for houseguests & family.

Themed parties were very popular in the Gilded Age of the 1920’s. The time period that the Huntingtons were “in residence” at the Ranch was usually from January to May. Many festive celebrations were in that time period: New Year’s Day, St. Valentine’s Day, February 27 was Mr. Huntington’s birthday, Spring, & Easter. There is evidence in the archives of other theme parties, Pink Tea luncheons,Chinese theme, Spanish theme, or French theme parties. 

Mrs. Arabella Huntington was even praised in the Newspaper for starting the fad of “Spanish dinners”; Los Angeles Herald Newspaper San Francisco Call newspaper even wrote about it on Nov. 21, 1899. in her Nob Hill mansion, she decorated with a Spanish theme & served Oyster Cocktail for a 1st course with crackers covered in red pepper & cheese, 2nd course was Pork Tamales in red spicy sauce in a corn pocket, with stuffed olives & pimentos & stuffed pepper with cheese, Mexican chocolate with cinnamon & whipped cream, & Mexican creamy “Dulce”  Dessert with nectarines.    

The Huntington garden feasts could have been different seasonal themes depending on the season. The party theme would have been determined by Belle. The Huntington’s Head butler Alfonso Gomez, & also Mr. Huntington personal valet, would describe “Belle” as “the boss of the house”. Libations or festive punch & abundant amount of tea food & or BBQ they served on the Ranch would have been delicious, festive, & very satisfying to their guests.

In the Huntington Mansion household papers, there was evidence of themed parties also hosted by the Huntingtons. A large collection of candle shade covers, with different themes & colors were discovered. Mrs. Huntington had large silver candelabras for the dining room table with “ten lights’ ‘ (ten candles) on each one. The candle shades had different themes like parrots (birds were a favorite), pink & white roses (Arabella’s favorite color scheme), & color combination of red/white (St. Valentine’s Day), green/yellow, & Black for formal & various other ones. Also, stored in closets were themed vases & plates: Chinese lanterns & Chinese Mason Medallion plates, French Sevres vases & French plates, English dogs & English birds, even Italian Capodimonte (Della Robbia like) porcelain plates also found in the inventory.   

Italian Capodimonte fancy plateware, one of Mrs. Huntington numerous plateware. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

A typical menu for “Sundays at the Ranch” & “Huntington Garden Party” again could have been very contradictive. In the Huntington gourmet grocery receipts and monthly grocery lists, this researcher found foods that could be for a BBQ rancho fiesta, a French soiree, or an elegant tea garden party. 

Mrs. Huntington’s Copeland & Garrett teapot, Gold & white. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

Edwards & Arabella loved tea: Orange Pekoe was a favorite, which is a combination of India tea & Ceylon tea. Their “Sundays at the Ranch” could have been a combination of American (Rancho BBQ) or Southern – American Style BBQ (the Huntingtons were very patriotic people), or an elegant Garden party, or an elegant French soiree.  

For a typical California Rancho fiestas, both a combination American Ranch BBQ foods & Mexican/Spanish food would have been served. What we know today as Mexican food was called “Spanish food” at the time. At the San Marino Ranch they might have served Los Angeles Albondigas Soup, BBQ Chicken or Doves, Carni Asada Beef or BBQ Pork Ribs, Homemade Corn Tortillas, Beef or Chicken Enchiladas, Tomato Salsa, Guacamole, Spanish Rice, Refried Beans with Rice, Pork or Beef Tamales, Festive Avocado & Orange Salad, & Mexican Churros with Cinnamon.  

To make their fiesta totally authentic, they might have bought homemade tamales in Historic Los Angeles  ́ ‘Olvera Street”. Mr. Huntington, even though retired, often went into his business office (Pacific Electric Railway Co.) on Main St. in downtown Los Angeles. He could have asked his chauffeur to pick several dozen tamales from nearby Olvera Street on Alameda. Olvera Street was very close to the Huntington Building/Pacific Electric Railway Co. on Main St. & 5th St. in Downtown. Listed in the mansion’s kitchen inventory was a handmade tortilla press, maybe used for one of these California Rancho type parties

At Rancho BBQ parties, a fabulous California tradition was Rancho-style “underground BBQ” cooking. Which is amazingly delicious!! Before the fiesta, meats like beef, pork, & chicken would be seasoned & marinated. The meats were then wrapped in plant leaves (banana) or seaweed then wrapped in wet burlap sacks. The ranch hands would dig a large hole in the ground. Hot coals, burning the night before, would have covered the wrapped meats & the men would shovel dirt back on top. The burlap sacks were stacked on dirt & then more dirt to cover. After about 8 hours later, the BBQ would be uncovered; this kind of Mexican style- Rancho BBQ creates fall-off-the-bone ribs, succulent BBQ chicken, & succulent BBQ beefsteaks, tender beef & pork ribs.    

California BBQ Tri-tip

The Huntingtons “entertainments” were American, Californian Rancho BBQ, & Southern-style themed parties. As told by their grocery invoices, pantry ingredients, & Huntington menus. The Sundays at the Ranch menu could have been a wonderful combination of all these styles:  BBQ Wild Games like Duck or Venison or Doves, Marinated Chicken, Beef & Pork with Mexican BBQ sauce. Sides could have been: Southern Baked Beans, Southern Grits, Ranch ColeSlaw or Southern Ambrosia Salad, Corn on the Cob, Southern Fried Salsify, French Potato Salad with French Tarragon, Southern Succotash, & Cornbread with Ranch Honey

For desserts, from all the delicious ripe ranch fruit trees, they served Southern Peach Pie and often Apple Pie with Ice Cream a la mode, or Individual Fruit Tarts, like Raspberry Pie & Ranch Loganberry Tarts. Ice cream topped with Hot Fudge Sauce & chopped Ranch Nuts & Brandied peaches was my favorite. The Cooks in the Huntington Kitchen  made Homemade Root beer & homemade Ice Cream for their guests’ pleasure, also Root Beer Floats were popular in the 1920’s. 

Mrs. Huntington loved afternoon tea. I found numerous culinary information from gourmet stores, bakery receipts, & grocery lists, all including tea items. An elegant Huntington garden party theme would have been Mrs. Huntington favorite tea Orange Pekoe tea, (a mixture of Ceylon & India tea leaves), this mixture was often made in the Huntington’s kitchens. The Huntington’s butler(s) & servants would have filled large silver urns of tea & hot water, with silver accoutrements filled with slices of lemon, sugar, and milk. The Huntington’s large silver punch bowl (they collected Gorham sterling silver) filled with Garden Party Punch, Wine Punch, Roman Punch, or French Champagne Punch. 

To start this elegant tea gathering, Caviar or Roquefort Canapés would have been served by the butler on a doily-lined silver tray in one the drawing rooms or the large library. The French doors that lead to the terrace could have been opened to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine. Guests could enjoy the inside of the mansion or their lovely rose arbors outside. 

Mrs. Huntington loved her roses, would have used one of her rose porcelain plates for a Garden Party.The dining room table would have been laid with finest damask tablecloth (often pink or white), fancy bone china like Haviland “Nappy” or Homer Laughlin “Angelus Rose” & with many tea cups & saucers.  Found in one of the Huntington’s 1914 invoices for Parmalee Dohrman fine bone china ware store in downtown Los Angeles. The Huntingtons purchases a huge amounts of Haviland plates in every size in a lovely pattern called “Nappy”. What thrilled me to the bone was that Haviland “Nappy” illustrates multicolor rose pattern (yellow to pink) with blue-lavender leaves with pink. I didn’t even know that multi-color roses existed in 1914!  This lovely plate pattern has a gold rim & a gold laurel wreath on the instead of the wreath of interwoven orange & pink roses. This would be lovely to use for a Garden Party, especially in Spring or Summer when the Huntington’s rose gardens would have been in bloom. Or the lovely pattern: Homer Laughlin – “Angelus Rose”.

Illustration of Homer Laughlin Pink rimmed & single pink rose plate, with recipe for Garden Party Punch. Photo credit & illustration: Nancy Armitage

For her guest’s tea pleasure, Mrs. Huntingon would serve dainty Tea Sandwiches were made of Ham Salad, Chicken Salad, & Egg Salad. Colorful bowls of Southern Ambrosia or Fruit Salad like San Marino Ranch Tropical Fruit Salad (mango, kiwi, papaya with brandied peaches) or Waldorf Salad. Some of the favorite Huntington tea party sweets were Chocolate Cake, Raisin Cake, & Teacake soaked in Jamaican Rum or Curacao. Tea tarts were homemade from ranch citrus fruit like orange & lemon or berries. All these decedent sweets served on doily-lined sterling silver, on Gorham silver platters & trays. Bonbon trays with lay out with Peppermint Bonbons & Chocolate Bonbons & Petit fours (small square petit iced cakes) were favorites. 

Chocolate “Bonbons” confection.

For tea or coffee, the Huntingtons used a large tea urn called a “samovar” for larger parties & entertainments. The Huntington’s head cook. Miss Nora Larson, was famous for her homemade jams & preserves, served with Southern Beaten biscuits or scones. She would make Orange Marmalade, Raspberry, Strawberry, Loganberry Jams, & numerous other preserves from ranch fruits & berries. 

The Huntington’s Guest Cottage was sometimes a location for the Huntington’s entertainments. It was located just north of the Library Building. The Cottage was actually not a cottage but a very large house with 6 bedrooms & bathrooms, a large hall, a library, & decorated in the lovely California Spanish Style. It had a large veranda & halfmoon driveway & large green lawn. The Guest Cottage would have been a great location for a Rancho Fiesta theme Sunday at the Ranch.  

The amount of people invited to “Sundays at the Ranch” could range from 12-50 guests or more. Other sources feel it could have been larger sometimes. When the Huntingtons had a few houseguests & their immediate family, it added up to 15-20 people. Often, a sit-down formal luncheon in the formal dining room for 12 guests was also connected with Sundays at the Ranch. Burke Holladay documented the dates of many of these parties in his journals, but no menus of these Sunday parties have been found in the Huntington papers. 

We do know information about these events through the Huntington Mansion Inventory papers, several of the china plate patterns are mentioned. Mrs. Huntington collected numerous fine china & porcelain plates and huge service sets: Copeland & Garret (gold), Limoges (white and gold), Coalport (cobalt or Tiffany blue & gold), Whieldonware “Pheasant or Pink Pheasant”, Sevres (pink & gold with landscape scenes/set of angels plates), & Havilland “Nappy” detailed multi-color rose pattern (yellow/red roses with pink & blue rose branches) also Haviland Art Nouveau looking Fine china “Poppy” &  “Sweet Pea” also Homer Laughlin “Angelus Rose” (gold & white & pink roses plates) to name a few) served up to 50 people. 

Mrs. Huntington adored Haviland plates she had about 20 patterns; Haviland “Nappy” Pattern purchased by the Huntingtons on January 31, 1914. Photo credit and illustration: Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Huntington purchased & used often numerous gold & white plates, gold & pink with pink roses, & some gold, white & navy blue plates. In January & February of 1914, Mrs. Arabella Huntington purchased 3000 plates (in several different fine china patterns) from Parmalee-Dohrmann in Downtown Los Angeles. A huge every day set of 1000’s of pieces was called Homer Laughlin with pink roses & gold/white and white teacups & tea saucers & plates. 

There is also a possibility that the Huntington’s had their “entertainments” catered by the Huntington Hotel; there was evidence found in 1915 with a large list of libations & foodstuffs listed. (the Hotel Huntington in Pasadena, which Mr. Huntington owned until 1918,) or the luxury Hotel Maryland he also owned, both located in Pasadena. They were also owned by Huntington Land & Improvement Co. which Mr. H. E. Huntington was the President. It was also a tradition in the Gilded Age to hire a French chef to dazzle one’s guests. Being in the hotel business, Mr. Huntington would have had access to a famous gourmet chef at his 1st class hotels.

Miss Nora Larsen was the head of the large Huntington Mansion Kitchen staffed of maids, cooks, & dessert cooks & extra help if needed. They had the men power to make everything homemade at the Mansion for a party. But, Mrs. Huntington was not opposed to her staff purchasing elegant pastries & goodies from the best bakeries & fancy food gourmet stores or restaurants in Pasadena or Los Angeles. 

The butler/valet: Alfonso Gomez, stated in an interview that the servant staff all got along really well. When there was a job to do, everyone pitched in to help. Mr. Hertrich, the head gardener & Superintendent of the Ranch, was in charge of everyone, all employees on the Ranch. He was also in charge of making huge flower arrangements for the mansion and entertaining. The girls in the house would always help him with the 150-200 stem floral & rose arrangements. 

For musical entertainment, the Huntingtons had a large electrical music box located in the Coat Room just next to the Loggia. The 1920’s music could be heard in the garden, on the Huntington’s Loggia, & on the Front Terrace. Sometimes (per Leslie Huntington), Mrs. Huntington would hire a trio or quartet of musicians to play at her “entertainments”; maybe a violinist, a harpist, or cellist to entertain their guests.  Sometimes, the Huntingtons could talk Mr. Huntington’s sister, Caroline Holliday or Leslie to play the piano for them.   

The Huntington’s Large Aviary was filled with 100’s of beautiful exotic birds.

Many fun outdoor activities were enjoyed on the Ranch. There was lawn bowling, billiards, croquet, tennis, horseback riding, walks, or visits to the large bird aviary. One could stroll through the elaborate gardens & fragrant orange groves. Mr. Huntington especially enjoyed taking his guests over to the large Library Building across the lawn from the Huntington’s mansion. He would take his interested guests to see his rare books & manuscripts. 

He was very proud of his Americana, Lincolniana & Washingtoniana Collections, Shakespeare Collection, & the great authors of all time. Many of Mr. Huntington books are located in the Large Library of the mansion. Inside the mansion, there were other enjoyable activities for the guests. They could socialize, feast on delicious food, stroll through the mansion, go to the large aviary & see the birds; look at the treasures of art, paintings, sculpture, books, & antiques. 

“The Blue Boy” painting by Gainsborough once hung in the Large Drawing Room at the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch. Now the Huntington Library in San Marino CA. Photo Credit & Illustration: Nancy Armitage

Mr. H. E. Huntington had purchased “Blue Boy” painting by Gainsborough. By March 1922, this painting was delivered to the San Marino Ranch. Often, to see this great work of art, was the highlight of a guest’s visit.  The Huntingtons enjoyed playing cards with their guests; bridge & whist were Huntington favorites. 

“Sundays at the Ranch” started out when Mr. Huntington in the early 1900’s bought the Ranch. He didn’t immediately live on the property. When he was “in residence” in Los Angeles he stayed overnight at the Jonathan Club or Hotel Van Nuys. Then he would make visits the Ranch on Sundays with picnic in hand. To see the progress of the Ranch & by 1908 the progress of the Huntington Mansion. He would bring his mother & his sister out to the ranch; he would visit the Patton Family & take a meal/picnic. Often, in the early days the Patton family invited Mr. Huntington to dinner.   

At the end of the party, Mrs. Arabella Huntington often gave her guests party favors. Per her butler, Alfonso Gomez and Leslie Huntington, she had a soft & generous heart and helped out local merchants selling different items. She had a large cabinet in the small Drawing Room that stored jewelry & trinkets to give to her guests as party favors. Sundays at the Ranch, whether a California Ranch BBQ or a Garden Party or French Soiree, was a most enjoyable memorable occasion.

Mr. Huntington “Edwards’ ‘ was always tickled to share all the treasures of their Ranch with his guests. When the Huntingtons traveled east in the summertime to their New York residences; their private train cars were filled to the brim with fresh ranch oranges and citrus fruits, vegetables & pickled vegetables, with homemade jams & jellies. Whole avocados called “alligator pears” were packed lovingly in tissue paper, plus Miss Larson special preserves & jams (loganberry jam and orange marmalade) to give as gifts to friends & family. The Huntington would also give treats from the ranch to people when they visited the Ranch. Often, they would give jars of San Marino Ranch Honey or Jams away as treats. A bag of oranges, lemons, plums, or nectarines when it is wonderful for anyone to receive.

Bibliography:

HEH Coll. MS 8/9 uncat (San Marino Ranch papers Large Ledger 1914-1915; 

H. Jevne gourmet grocery receipt) homemade root beer & homemade ice cream, rum, & curacaos)

HEH Coll.MS 38/6 uncat (Leslie Huntington affidavit in Arabella Huntington estate papers- Arabellas Entertainment, luncheon everyday & tea) 

HEH Coll. MS 19/1 (17) uncat (Alfonso Gomez, Huntington’s butler interviews)

HEH Coll. MS 38/11 uncat (New York House papers), the Huntington’s 57th and 5th Ave. mansion. Tea food invoices from gourmet grocery stores, bonbons from huylers candy co, tea sandwiches, teacakes mentioned. 

HEH Coll. MS Lawning bowling (Letter from Mr. Miller to HEH on ship letterhead correspondence, lawning bowling at the Ranch) 

HEH Coll. MS 10869 MS (Burke Holladay Journals on March 1922 the Gainsbourgh painting, “Blue Boy” arrives)

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